All the thrills, glamour and heroism of an agent's life (an estate agent, that is)

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I FEEL sorry for estate agents. For one thing, nobody has ever bothered to feature them in a major novel. But today all that is changed. Yes, today I bring you a major new work of fiction about an estate agent! Not only that, but it is an interactive novel. This means that you, the reader, have the power to change the course of the story by choosing the right option at various moments. Understand? Well, you will, as soon as you get into this complete novel about estate agents, entitled...

TOP OF THE MARKET

YOUR NAME is Hugo, and you are looking for a house in the country, preferably with 5,000 acres of gardens and grouse-shooting and preferably within ten minutes of central London. How do you set about looking for it?

a)You drop a note to Buckingham Palace saying you have heard that as so many Royals are on the move, there is now accommodation within the Palace coming on the market.

b)You buy Harrods and install a roof garden.

c)You go to a top estate agent's and consult an expert.

Of course! You go to a top estate agent's and the man who deals with you, Mr Batchelor, says he thinks he has just the thing. He takes you in his car and after an hour's drive you come to Lucknow Hall, a Georgian building set among some dark trees facing north...

"IT ISN'T exactly what I had in mind," said Hugo, looking at the ravens on the lawn and the small procession of death watch beetle heading up the main drive. "It's a little ... secluded."

"Secluded, yes," said Mr Batchelor. "Lonely, no. Private, yes. Remote, no. You will be amazed at the feeling of privacy combined with accessibility."

Hugo felt there was no answer to this. He did not realise yet that everything Mr Batchelor said was designed to be answer-proof, which is the sign of a really great estate agent.

"Is it really only ten minutes to Hyde Park Corner?" said Hugo.

"What kind of helicopter will you be using?" said Mr Batchelor, but before Hugo could answer, Mr Batchelor's mobile phone rang and he put it to his ear with an apology.

Who can possibly be ringing Mr Batchelor ?

a) It is Mr Batchelor's wife, saying she has found out about Mr Batchelor's mistress and his hidden love nest in Wimbledon.

b) It is Mr Batchelor's mistress in Wimbledon, saying the central heating is playing up again, and it's freezing cold in their love nest.

c) It is head office, reminding him he is due to see a Mr Chris Evans at midday.

Yes, thank goodness, it is only head office !

"SORRY about that," said Mr Batchelor, snapping his phone back into his pocket. "Head office getting their knickers in a twist, as usual. Now, let's have a look inside..."

Mr Batchelor brought a huge key-ring out of his pocket, tried every one, but still couldn't shift the lock of the front door. Hugo stepped forward and turned the handle. It opened easily.

"It's not locked," he said.

"That's strange," said Mr Batchelor, frowning. "Why on earth...?"

"Ssssh..." said Hugo. "I think I hear voices inside."

Silently the two men tiptoed through the supposedly empty house until they came to a room from which came the sound of lively conversation. Mr Batchelor threw open the door and the two of them stood there open- mouthed.

What had they seen ?

a) A TV set left behind by the previous owner, showing an old Edward G Robinson movie

b) A team from a rival estate agent's, showing a rival customer round

c) Salman Rushdie, sitting at a table with several police officers, playing cards.

Yes, Hugo and Mr Batchelor had stumbled across Salman Rushdie's secret hide-out, where he was still cowering from the gun of an Iranian assassin, not realising that nobody in Iran cares any longer about him. No sooner was the door open than the policemen all leapt to their feet, scattering their cards (including, in one case, sadly, a hand containing four aces) and aiming their guns at Hugo.

"FREEZE!" shouted one.

"Who are you ?" shouted another.

"I've come here with Mr Batchelor from the estate agent's..." began Hugo. He turned to point to Mr Batchelor. There was nobody there. Mr Batchelor had done a runner. "You see, I'm looking for somewhere within easy reach of central London..."

Seconds later his arm was forced up his back and there was a gun at his head.

"We're nowhere near central London," said a voice smelling of garlic in his ear. "Talk fast, or you die..."

Oops - I'm sorry - we seem to have run out of space. You're on your own now! Good luck! Hope you get out alive!

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